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Center for Transportation Studies

SAFEPLOW demo draws interest from state patrol

The Intelligent Vehicles Program of the ITS Institute gave its first local demonstration of the SAFEPLOW October 26 in Rogers, Minnesota. Representatives from the Minnesota State Patrol and snowplow drivers from the Minnesota Department of Transportation turned out to ride in the plow and experience the newly redesigned heads-up display (HUD) and the other onboard guidance technologies firsthand.

Participating in the SAFEPLOW demo were ITS Institute Director Max Donath, Lieutenant Mark Peterson and Captain Dick Wittenberg of the State Patrol, and IV Program Director Craig Shankwitz.

Participating in the SAFEPLOW demo were ITS Institute Director Max Donath, Lieutenant Mark Peterson and Captain Dick Wittenberg of the State Patrol, and IV Program Director Craig Shankwitz.

The HUD, based on centimeter-level GPS tracking of the plow, displays the lane boundaries in perspective, directly in front of the driver’s eyes, thus helping the plow operator stay in the correct lane. The SAFEPLOW is also equipped with a radar-based collision avoidance system that allows the driver to see the location of obstacles, displayed on the HUD, and make the proper steering and braking corrections to avoid a collision.

After successful demonstrations at Demo ‘99 in July, the SAFEPLOW research team has been readying the plow for its first winter testing season here in Minnesota. As part of that preparation, this recent demonstration showed interested parties the potential safety and productivity benefits of the SAFEPLOW’s technology. That technology can be applied to all specialty vehicles, including patrol cars and ambulances, that need to operate in severe weather and low visibility conditions.

Lieutenant Mark Peterson arranged for the state patrol visit because of an interest in how the technology might aid officers’ work in hazardous winter conditions. Captain Dick Wittenberg, who drove four hours to attend the demonstration, explained that in his jurisdiction, one stretch of U.S. Highway 2 between Crookston, Minn., and Grand Forks, N. D., must be shut down nearly six times each year due to whiteout snow conditions. Since Highway 2 is not a controlled access highway, the state patrol must monitor the road for stranded vehicles. To do so, they drive a specially equipped vehicle that allows them to drive slowly (10 mph) without the risk of getting stuck in the snow. However, the treaded wheels do not help them to see in the treacherous conditions, so they must travel along the roadways by feel. “I see a lot of potential for that technology,” Wittenberg said, adding that the HUD and GPS-based map would be especially useful on Highway 2.

The SAFEPLOW is part of the University of Minnesota’s Intelligent Vehicles (IV) Lab, which is staffed by IV Program Director Craig Shankwitz, Lee Alexander, Alec Gorjestani, Heon Min Lim, Bryan Newstrom, Walter Trach, Pi Ming Cheng, Sameer Pardhy, and Norm Meyer.